Kashima Antlers took giants steps towards defending their MEIJI YASUDA J1 League title by beating Gamba Osaka 2-1 on Saturday while Kawasaki Frontale and Cerezo Osaka faltered.
Despite falling behind to Hwang Ui-jo’s seventh-minute opener, Go Oiwa’s Antlers thoroughly dominated Gamba and deservedly equalised in first-half stoppage time through Leandro.
The hosts pushed for the winner after the break and were made to wait for it, deservedly finding the back of the net in the 92nd-minute through Naomichi Ueda who scored the winner.
It is a result that puts reigning Japanese champions Antlers eight points clear of second-placed Kawasaki Frontale, who only drew 0-0 at Vissel Kobe.
Cerezo Osaka suffered even worse on the day, with the former surprise title contenders falling to a 4-1 home loss to Vegalta Sendai to slip 13 points off the pace.
The promoted outfit are on a downward spiral but things are finally looking up for Sanfrecce Hiroshima who picked up their second league win in a row, beating Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1.
That means they are still ahead of Ventforet Kofu despite the latter’s entertaining 3-2 victory over Yokohama F. Marinos with Dudu bagging a brace.
Omiya Ardija and Albirex Niigata continue propping up the table, meanwhile, after the pair slipped to defeat at Jubilo Iwata and Consadole Sapporo respectively.
Urawa Reds’ struggles continued after they were forced to come back from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Sagan Tosu, who will be disappointed not to have claimed all three points after Kyosuke Tagawa’s double.